Court Again Adjourns MRA’s Lawsuit on Enforcement of the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa

Ms.Obioma Okonkwo
Head of MRA’s Legal Team

A Federal High Court sitting in Lagos, presided over by Justice Peter Lifu, has once again adjourned to November 3, 2023, hearing in a suit filed by Media Rights Agenda (MRA) against the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF), over the failure of the Nigerian government to take concrete actions to ensure the safety of journalists and to enforce Principle 20 of the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa.

The lawsuit, initiated through an Originating Summons filed on July 27, 2021, by Ms. Obioma Okonkwo on behalf of MRA seeks to establish the binding nature of the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa within the legal framework of Nigeria. Additionally, it underscores the enforceability of the principles outlined in the Declaration.

MRA had called on the Nigerian Government to fulfill its responsibility in safeguarding the safety of journalists and media practitioners by investigating attacks against them and upholding Principle 20, and thereby demonstrate its commitment to ensuring a safe and secure environment for journalists and media workers.

Ms. Okonkwo emphasized the breaches of the Declaration and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, asserting that the government’s inaction directly contradicts its statutory obligations. In her arguments before the court, Ms. Okonkwo pointed out that the failure to adequately protect journalists not only jeopardizes their safety but also undermines the public’s right to access information through diverse media channels.

The suit also seeks to compel the court to issue specific orders, including those to prevent attacks, prosecute those responsible for assaults on journalists, provide effective remedies for victims, raise awareness about the importance of journalist safety, and enhance the capacity of media professionals and policymakers to ensure safer environments for journalists.

Previously scheduled for October 19, 2022, as the mention date, the court adjourned due to the absence of the AGF and the lack of legal representation on his behalf. Recognizing the significance of a fair opportunity for the AGF to present his case, the court rescheduled the hearing to ensure that justice is upheld and that both sides have an equitable platform to be heard.

The case’s previous hearings have encountered various delays, with the court setting April 3, 2023, as a hearing date, which was later adjourned due to the Easter vacation leading to a subsequent adjournment to June 29, 2023.

Unforeseen circumstances led to another delay on June 29, 2023, as the court was not in session due to the observance of the Id el Kabir public holiday on June 28 and 29, 2023. As a result, the proceedings were further rescheduled to take place on November 3, 2023.